American Pie 22.01.04

Since the Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times, editors here have become more diligent. In recent weeks there have been several cases of reporters being ?red, or forced to resign, because of plagiarism, fake datelines or fabricating credentials. Now, it’s the turn of the country’s biggest-selling general news daily, USA Today. Foreign correspondent Jack Kelley, who has been with the paper since its launch 20 years ago, has resigned in the middle of an investigation into his reporting. His fame and supposedly higher salary than most of other correspondents created a lot of jealousy and led to an anonymous e-mail criticising his stories. This prompted an in-of?ce probe. One story, ?led from Yugoslavia in 1999 which, based on newly discovered Army documents, linked Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic directly to “ethnic cleansing” was speci?cally checked. Kelley claimed that two interpreters had helped him translate the documents. The investigation, including efforts to contact the translators, threw doubt on his story. Similar doubts surfaced about a story ?led from Israel in which he claimed to be an eyewitness to a suicide bombing – a story cited in his nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. USA Today concluded that the 43-year-old newsman had repeatedly misled his editors and although it didn’t immediately call for him to resign he did so of his own accord. Nevertheless, USA Today said it intended to continue the investigation into Kelley’s work Eyebrows were raised when Sean Penn was sent to Iraq as “special correspondent” for the San Francisco Chronicle because on previous trips he has criticised President Bush and the war. Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein defended the assignment, saying the actor’s personal views as a local resident were of interest to readers. He insisted the actor was only being paid “standard freelance rates” – between $200 and $1,000 (£110 and £550) depending on the length of his dispatches. The ?rst piece Penn ?led ran to more than 6,000 words.

Freelances who wrote for Lingua Franca have received calls demanding they send back the money they were paid for articles written before the literary magazine went bankrupt in 2001. It seems the magazine owes a lot of money to “secured creditors” who were guaranteed their money back. If the fees are not returned, the writers have been warned they will be sued. Joan Rakoff said she had received a letter demanding the return of $1,550 (£855) within 10 days. A lawyer for the Authors’ Guild, which has taken up the case, says: “It’s not only unprecedented but silly.”

Magazine news: the growth of reality shows on TV has led to the launch of a magazine called Reality Check, ?lled with what it claims are inside stories about the shows and how to get picked as a contestant. Meanwhile, the new glossy version of The Star, the tabloid that has turned into a celebrity magazine, is an inch taller and wider than its rivals People and US. The resurrection (once again) of Life magazine, this time as a weekend supplement to a number of Sunday papers, is expected soon. Also getting a new look, Fortune, which has a new executive editor, Xana Antunes, former editor of the NY Post.

What’s next for Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies? His next movie role will be a “highly stressed New York fashion magazine editor who thinks everyone is stealing his ideas – and goes crazy over the notion”. Anyone we know?

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